Hard on the heels of the introduction of the new anti-ageism legislation which came into force on October 1, a new international workplace survey carried out by employment agency Kelly Services found that 40 per cent of job seekers in the UK believe they have been discriminated against when applying for work in the last five years.

The Kelly Global Workforce Index sought the views of approximately 70,000 people in 28 countries, including almost 6,000 UK respondents.

The survey found that 31 per cent had experienced discrimination in their day-to-day working life.

The major source of discrimination identified by respondents was age, which was cited by 17 per cent. This was followed by race (eight per cent), gender (six per cent) and disability (two per cent).

Older workers are facing the greatest challenge in dealing with age-based discrimination. More than 50 per cent of workers aged 45 or older felt they had been discriminated against on the basis of their age.

However, 16 per cent of younger workers aged up to 24 also believed they were victims of age discrimination.

Forty two per cent of men claimed to have experienced prejudice when applying for a job, compared to 38 per cent of women. But only 20 per cent of those who felt discriminated against took the matter further – and most were unhappy with the outcome.

In contrast to most other countries, those with university qualifications in the UK reported higher rates of discrimination.

UK industries with above average levels of discrimination included engineering, IT, transport/distribution, manufacturing and utilities.

However, the level of discrimination in the UK is low by global standards, with the UK ranked 25th on the list of 28 countries worldwide and 14th amongst the 16 European countries in the survey.

Catherine King, managing director for Kelly Services, said: "In many areas, ageism has overtaken ethnicity and sexism as the greatest source of discrimination in employment.

"At a time when we face an ageing population and skills shortages, many companies are putting obstacles in the way of hiring older people. As well as being devastating for individuals, this has resulted in organisations shutting off an important source of talent and diversity.

"The new anti-age legislation will undoubtedly help to turn the trend toward discriminating against certain age groups, and businesses that do not address these issues directly will do themselves considerable damage.

"They run the risk of suffering from high staff turnover, absenteeism, poor morale, low productivity and poor reputation as well as the possibility of civil claims and penalties arising from breach of these new laws.

"We hope to conduct another survey in a year’s time and find that the problem has significantly decreased."